Penally asylum seekers criticise military camp housing

Published
Media caption,
The men said they loved the UK and the people who saved their lives, but the accommodation was "not suitable"

Asylum seekers being housed in a military training camp said they were shocked by the conditions.

The group of men, from Iraq and Iran, said it was the first time they had been placed in military accommodation since arriving in the UK.

Protests and counter-protests have taken place this month at the site in Penally, Pembrokeshire, that could house up to 230 asylum seekers.

A police commissioner has called on the Home Office to apologise.

"It's cold and impossible to social distance," one of the asylum seekers told the BBC.

The Home Office said it had "worked at pace" to provide suitable accommodation "during these unprecedented times".

Image caption,
Some of the group seeking asylum are as young as 17

The group, who did not want to give their names, are aged between 17 and 26 and waiting for their claims to be processed.

One said the UK had "saved" his life after fleeing Iraq, but Penally was the seventh "and worst" location he had been sent to in seven months in the UK.

"It's not good for human people here," he said.

"We are not army, we are civic people. We are an engineer, a doctor, a nurse, a teacher.

"It's very cold and we are six people in a very small room. It is too many. We can't social distance."

Image caption,
Some protesters carried banners reading "migrants and refugees welcome here"

He said the group was "shocked" to be behind barbed wire and high fences.

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford has criticised the Home Office's decision to place asylum seekers at the camp, saying it was "unsuitable" for vulnerable people who have "fled terror and suffering".

And there had been a "lack of planning, communication, consultation and information", according to Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn.

He described the move as "totally unacceptable" and said it showed a "lack of respect" to residents in Penally and the surrounding area.

"It has been left to our local agencies including the police to pick up the pieces of this impractical Home Office decision and I am therefore asking for a direct apology," Mr Llywelyn added.

One of the group, who said he had fled a war zone, said some of them found being in a military setting distressing.

"He came from war and political fighting and now they put him in an army camp," he said.

"Being here, he remembers all the things that happened to him. It's scary."

Image caption,
One asylum seeker showed his scars from the war in his home country

Mr Drakeford blamed the Home Office for its handling of the situation, saying his request for a two-week delay for the housing was blocked.

Last week, the Home Office said it was working to find suitable accommodation for asylum seekers, with facilities in the south-east of England under strain.

However, members of the group said they had been told they would be in Penally for a year.

"We don't have anything against the location, we feel safe, but we are not army," the man said.

"This is not temporary. Please, we can't stay here."

On Wednesday, police say they arrested a 29-year-old man on suspicion of arson and criminal damage after they were called to the camp at about 22:30 BST. He remained in police custody, Dyfed Powys Police added.

The ambulance service said paramedics also responded and a person was taken to Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest. Their condition is not known.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Following a review of available government property, the [Ministry of Defence] agreed to temporarily hand over two of their sites in Kent and Pembrokeshire which are now being used to house asylum seekers.

"Nobody staying at these sites is being detained. Asylum seekers are able to come and go from the accommodation and are staying in safe, Covid-compliant conditions, in line with the law and social distancing requirements."

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